Over 4.200 Slovakian youths answered the questionnaire ahead of the Synod with 50 questions on their vocation, their criteria of choice in life, their relationships, on religion, faith and the Church. In Slovakia the answers were collected and processed by the Council for young people and university. SIR addressed the theme with the Secretary of the Council Father Ondrej Chrvala.
How do young people see the Church in Slovakia and vice versa?
Young people are the future. They represent hope. They challenge communities in a positive way, they are the new life of the Church. With regard to the ways in which young people see the Church, there are two sets of answers. For some youths the Church is a sort of museum, unrelated to our modern world. Then there is a large group of people for whom the Church is more than “compulsory” attendance to liturgical services. For them, the Church is an element of hope in this world, a pillar of values, a place where they feel welcomed. This shows that for many young people the Church is a solid point of reference within an ever-changing society.
What lies at the heart of the pastoral care of young people in Slovakia?
First of all, there is an ongoing formation process. In this era characterised by new challenges, we try to help young people find guidance and be firmly rooted in God. We promote many evangelization projects addressed to the young who don’t know God and His Church. At national level we focus on support to unity in diversity. We respect the various paths of faith, but we always emphasize that they all lead to the One and Only God.
How would you describe the faith of young Catholics in Slovakia?
In general, it could be said that they are “demanding” faithful. They are not content with simple answers. They want more, they need to dig below the surface. In this sense they constitute a challenge, for us and for all those tasked with guiding them in their path of faith. We need to be true to ourselves in this process, because young people “see through us” , and they immediately notice if something is off-key. Owing to this approach their faith is deeply-rooted, and it is hardly ever shaken throughout their life. Young people in Slovakia take faith very seriously, regardless of what the secular arena says. Thus I firmly believe they can become leaven for our Country also in more powerful ways, compared to those who came before them. The Church is called to guide young people towards new, more elevated levels of faith.
What are the main challenges emerging from your pastoral experiences and from the findings of the questionnaire?
The answers show that young people prefer a mode of communication that is closer to our contemporary world. They seek greater moral harmony between human behaviour and professed values. This could be a major challenge for the Church, that has preserved her faith traditions for thousands of years, and doesn’t always find it easy to adapt to fast-paced transformations. It could hinder mutual communication and understanding. There is another challenge the Church is called to address, namely, the invitation to be authentic and transparent.
Do you reach out to non-believers?
While our pastoral work is chiefly addressed to “our” young people, we carry out some interesting projects for youths outside our environment, through which we seek to reach out to youths who have never been accompanied towards this realm. Nobody has ever spoken to them about God and faith. In many cases they are prejudiced, which makes communication difficult. We try to communicate with them highlighting the natural values rooted in every human soul. Many of them soon come to realize that in our society, where everything is driven by success and superficial relations, God and His Church can provide the ideal support and stability.
The Council for youths and university has developed a tradition of meetings with young people at national level. In your opinion, what is the impact of the meetings on young people’s religious education?
These meetings are based on unity in diversity and on the richness of the charisms inside the Church. Another important moment is when the youths come together with their bishops. They openly share their views and answer questions on faith. It is evident for everyone that in these circumstances barriers and prejudices are overcome in full. There is a growing interest for these national meetings on the part of the young. I consider them one of the best tools for pastoral care.